John Sculley: "I wish Steve and I hadn't had a falling out"

Steve Jobs and John Sculley

From a remove of three decades, the man held responsible for triggering Steve Jobs' first departure from Apple says he wished he had a do-over.

"I wish Steve and I hadn't had a falling out," John Sculley told the Dow Jones Newswire in a revealing interview. "I wish I had gone back to Steve and said, "This is your company, let's figure out how you can come back and be CEO." I wish I had thought of that. But you can't change history."

Sculley, who was brought in as Apple's CEO in 1983 when Jobs was just 28, was the quintessential East Coast corporate executive who was brought in to bring the fast-growing startup a more disciplined management structure. During his tenure, Apple's revenues grew from $570 million to $8.3 billion by the time he was forced to resign in 1993.

"I was fascinated with what was going on in Silicon Valley," Sculley recalled. "I was the first corporate executive recruited from outside the industry. There was very little movement from the East Coast. And it was unprecedented for someone to come to a high-profile Silicon Valley company without a technical background."

Apple co-founder Steven Jobs & CEO/Chrmn. John Sculley posing with Macintosh computer in 1984
Getty Images/Diane Walker

But within two years, he and Jobs clashed over product direction, a dispute which led to Jobs' removal as head of the Macintosh division. For Sculley, who said he and Jobs had become close friends, the decision marked a rift that has remained to this day.

"The board made a decision and they asked Steve to step down as head of the Macintosh division. He still remained as chairman of the board. But that was an incredible blow to the man who created the product, he was extremely hurt and pained by it. To me, coming from corporate America, I was used to people being moved from job to job, because that's how it worked. Professional executives were reassigned, terminated, promoted all the time. That's not what you do with founders of companies."

Apple's CEOs over the years

Jobs would leave Apple a few months later, beginning an odyssey that would last until 1996 when his new company NeXt was acquired by Apple. Recalling the chronology of those times, Sculley said that he and Jobs have not had any subsequent contact. " In the past I tried, and he never had any interest in re-engaging," Sculley said. "He clearly blames me."

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.